Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Top Sundance 2024 Film “In the Summers” Depicts Snapshots of Fractured Family

Just as many moviegoers are experiencing the wider release of awards season darling The Zone of Interest, a film about what’s not happening at the Holocaust, the top prize winner at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival traces the lives of two sisters over two decades through four brief summers visiting their alcoholic father and omits off-screen the other dozens of seasons comprising umpteen collective years of their more consistent formative experiences. Still as a poetic and humanist glimpse at growing up while mesmerized and repulsed by traits of an erratic father figure whose frailties they certainly don’t wish to emulate, Alessandra Lacorazza’s In the Summers (B-) features lovely performances and sensitively maps the topography of the human heart in the unexpected terrain of desert town Las Cruces, New Mexico, with a predominantly Latino cast. Like Moonlight, the kids growing up are played by different actors in each of the film’s successive chapters, capturing a vibe if not a precise facsimile, with urban music star René Pérez Joglar (aka Residente) the constant with a marvelous lived-in portrayal of the troubled father. Each pair of actresses builds a successive solid foundation, paying off in anguished final act performances by Sasha Calle and Lio Mehiel. Along the bittersweet journey are suggested sexual awakenings and implied chemical dependencies, but viewers may find themselves at a distance with only snapshots disclosed along the sisters’ throughlines. Despite a relaxed pace, some critical junctures are rushed or unresolved. Some of the movie’s metaphors about decay and distrust, evident in the unkept family pool and literal scars from skirmishes, become a bit too obvious as the film is revealed to not have a huge head of steam in the plot department. Cinematographer Alejandro Mejía creates delicate frames for an often moving series of portraits, including lovely chapter dividers depicting souvenirs of each epoch of summertimes when the living isn’t easy. Viewers will find they deeply care about these girls growing up even if the film’s format doesn’t always dwell on the most interesting parts of their stories. 

Emerald Fennell’s Stylish “Saltburn” Loses Grip on its House of Cards

Like a triangle of sadness refracted through the lens of a glass onion, “eat the rich”parables have become played out parasites on the multiplex menu. Emerald Fennell’s curious sophomore outing, Saltburn (C+), is a mid-2000s set vodka stinger of a black comedy imploring viewers to examine the motivations of two Mr. Brightsides, the yearning nebbish Oxford scholarship recipient Oliver portrayed by Barry Keoghan and his half-hearted golden boy aristocrat schoolmate Felix played by Jacob Elordi. Pauper and prince become fast friends against the backdrop of a cruel summer of parties and people as playthings amidst the eccentric dynamic of the film’s titular palatial estate, home of much style and little substance. The characters’ motivations remain murky throughout the proceedings, leaving only two definitive takeaways: that the pulpy puzzle box of a production design is often absolutely divine and that Rosamund Pike is camp genius in her role as the rich family’s oblivious mum, Lady Elspeth Catton, whose blithe asides are bliss. In between MGMT and Arcade Fire needle drops and kinky sequences filled with body fluids rivaling Babylon, the story is feckless when it should be reckless in its drift toward a decadent denouement. Both wily leading men display ample charms but to diminishing returns. Fennell’s folly ultimately swirls and almost drowns in tepid bathwater evocative of the similarly plotted and far better thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley. Swim through this film’s sick lullabies and choke on its alibis at your own risk.

“Rustin” Reveals the Man Behind the Movement and Colman Domingo at the Top of His Craft

Bringing a little-known real-life story to the screen, George C. Wolfe’s Rustin (B) is an effective and rousing biopic that just misses taking viewers completely under the surface. Bayard Rustin, played with virtuosity by Colman Domingo, is advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and dedicated his life to the quest for racial equality, human rights and worldwide democracy. However, as an openly gay Black man, he is all but erased from the civil rights movement he helped build. The success of the film rests largely on Domingo’s shoulders, and he is clever and creative in capturing the mannerisms and intensity of a character organizing the historic 1963 March on Washington. Aml Ameen is also fantastic as MLK, and many of the film’s best sequences involve his engaged banter with the title character about various techniques to mobilize society and the machinery of government to see things their way. The screenplay shortchanges an exploration of Rustin’s most complex contours and instead focuses on by-the-books highlights. Wolfe is a renowned stage director and, despite overseeing a polished production, doesn’t much overcome the general talkiness of the material. Expect Domingo and Lenny Kravitz’s closing credits song to garner awards attention and audiences to rejoice in getting to encounter a tremendous historical hero.

Megan Thee Stallion the Standout of “Dicks: The Musical”

Making a comic film with perpetual double dares to its audience to not be shocked by its master-crass of gags is a delicate art, and these filmmakers are too loosey goosey in their dirty ditty-filled romp to consistently nail their themes or targets. Director Larry Charles delivers the mixed bag of Dicks: The Musical (C) based on work by Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp who reprise off-Broadway roles as sort-of adult identical twins who meet through business and try, Parent Trap style, to cajole their single parents, played by Megan Mullally (funny but with a ridiculous accent) and Nathan Lane (funny but not much to do here), into one big happy reunited family. A sassy Bowen Yang is fine as the wry omniscient narrator, but Megan Thee Stallion is the sublime surprise as the corporate boss with a women-rule-the-world song for the ages in one of the few sequences fully realized (gay clubs will have this on loop for eternity). There are also some creative puppets standing in as allegories and private parts amidst a bunch of hit or miss songs. The costumes, choreography and production design are generally a hoot, but the scattershot story rarely gets liftoff and the takeaways from the twisted morality tale are murky at best. The South Park movie and Book of Mormon stage show were much more successful in the mature musical milieu. As actors and writers, Jackson and Sharp seem to be laughing their way through the whole enterprise, but they’ve only reached a semi.

Political Romcom “Red, White & Royal Blue” a Soapy Same-Sex Sensation

This summer’s great wish fulfillment romance is so high stakes, it just might cause an international incident. Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine play the U.S. president’s son and a British prince, respectfully, who find themselves falling in love in Matthew López’s winning romcom Red, White & Royal Blue (B+). Considering their roles as high-profile public figures, the young men who Meet Cute at a U.K. wedding party must keep their burgeoning relationship a secret at all costs. The lead actors are dashing and often amusing in their earnest roles, and López grounds the plot with enough political accuracy and contours about making history for one’s culture or community to make the cross-continental complications fairly credible. Strong supporting performances include Uma Thurman as the Texas-accented president and Stephen Fry as a smug member of the monarchy. The film, available on Prime Video, is a triumph of representation and a jolly good time in its own right.

Surreal Dark Comedy “Bottoms” Clings Blissfully to Same Bad Idea for Duration

The brazen style and balls-out swagger of Emma Seligman’s Bottoms (C) earns the surreal comedy about marginalized young people some nifty novelty points, but the freshness of this brisk tale of two high school lesbians (Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri) who set up a fight club as a guise to hook up with the popular cheerleaders wears off lickety-split. The compelling central duo at the film’s center certainly wins some deserved laughs with droll, deadpan and raunchy dialogue as well as heartfelt empathy, milking all they can from the outrageous premise and their characters’ plights. Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber also bring spirit to the enterprise as would-be paramours, as do Nicholas Galitzine as an absurdist jock archetype and Marshawn Lynch as an aloof teacher who becomes an unwitting club sponsor. The rules of the film’s arch universe are loosely defined and keep viewers at bay from fully immersing. Although billed as a satire, the send-up doesn’t necessarily hit its targets with consistency, which is disappointing with as many topical issues to plumb. This one-note dark comedy wants to be Heathers or even But I’m a Cheerleader and doesn’t quite get there. 

“Bros” Should Have Been So Much Better

Now on demand.

This movie is about confidence and not letting anyone tell you you’re not worthy of achieving a particular goal; and that theme, more than the raunchy and sometimes routine comedy, makes its story a standout. Billy Eichner, known for his hilarious man on the street sketch highjinks, stars in and co-wrote Bros (B) with director Nicholas Stoller, and there’s a sense of gravitas and urgency to the proceedings as it’s one of the first gay rom-coms from a legacy Hollywood studio. Eichner’s acerbic personality often makes for an awkward force fit as the protagonist who has given up on finding a relationship, but luckily he acts opposite a very sturdy and funny co-lead in Luke Macfarlane, his polar opposite. Eichner inhabits a character who hosts podcasts and curates a museum but doesn’t really seem a natural especially on the latter, but his occupations are catalysts for him to encounter a diverse batch of characters and set into motion tropes of the genre including meeting cute at a party and hoping to get a call to hang out again. All the rom-com conventions are here through a gay lens both funny and poignant as the characters reckon with the history undergirding their fairly privileged NYC lives, and Stoller mines goldmines of incidental comedy out of the ensemble. There are snarky throwaway comic lines and occasionally some broadly funny physical comedy, but the main through-line was having something to prove much more than getting into a funny groove. Tips of the hat go to Bowen Yang and Debra Messing for very funny bits. The movie gets high marks for being high minded but could have used a little more lowbrow. The best parts are the more conventional “falling in love” sequences, and some of the other trappings feel like they are trying too hard to have Something to Say.

The Fear of Masked Pronouns is Real in “They/Them” Now Available on Peacock Streaming

Now streaming on Peacock.

Those harboring horror film history will have a sixth sense of what you get when it’s Kevin Bacon plus sleepaway camp: it’s not a lucky day for the teen participants. John Logan’s new film They/Them (B) is pronounced “they slash them,” and although it’s sometimes more effective as social commentary than horror movie, it’s often a riveting and surprisingly sensitive psychological adventure. Theo Germaine is absorbing as the non-binary protagonist in a talented LGBTQ ensemble, with Anna Chlumsky and Carrie Preston among the standout counselors at an outdoor conversion camp further complicated by the presence of a masked killer. Kevin Bacon is solid as the seemingly mild mannered but possibly sadistic camp leader; the actor clearly liked the concept enough to be a behind the scenes producer as well. The body count is punctuated by sterling doses of intimate drama and even a jubilant singalong to a Pink anthem. Just when folks thought it was safe to be out of the closet, this twisty tale provides refreshing riffs by the queer and loathing, especially when the usual roles occupied by damsels in distress are  magnificently reversed and empowered. This is unexpected fare in the streaming wilderness of late summer.

Wahlberg Effective as “Joe Bell”

Now in theatres

A striking lived-in central performance by Mark Wahlberg as an anti-bullying crusader lifts Reinaldo Marcus Green’s frank biographical tale of Joe Bell (B-) above its sentimental R-rated afterschool special conceits. Structurally wobbly and a touch treacly, the film about a father’s road to redemption after not doing all he could to save his gay son from abuse at the hands of his high school classmates is often quite moving and revealing. Connie Britton is wonderful as well as the family matriarch, and Reid Miller gives a sensitive portrayal of the troubled teen: fragile, flamboyant and fiery. Green tinges the threadbare story with moments of realism, poignancy and heartbreaking self-reflection; it is best in its most small and intimate moments as opposed to its large gestures. The film is superb in depicting little-seen insights into the father-son bond and showcasing what it means to be strong in your own skin, and Wahlberg nails the central role. Even when the film sometimes stumbles in storytelling, it is a well-meaning summons to travel the world with head held high. It imparts lessons the world still needs to hear.

Duo of Talented Actors Lend Heft to Gay Drama “Supernova”

Now in theatres.

This is one of those movies in which you really need flashbacks to when the characters may have been much more interesting. Playing loving partners of twenty years in Harry Macqueen’s slog of a road trip through the British countryside, Supernova (C), Colin Firth’s pianist must come to grips with revelations from Stanley Tucci as his lover, an author battling onset dementia. Firth gives the better performance and is often quietly moving. Tucci is adequate but not particularly revelatory in an underwritten role. The sad descent is sensitively handled, and the two actors acquit themselves admirably with tender material. Alas sequences on the road have the allure of one of those calming apps that helps you sleep, and none of the stops – including a mundane family reunion and a charmless rental house – hold much appeal or allure. Aside from the fact that it’s two rather well-known actors who aren’t gay playing gay, there’s really not much to see here that hasn’t been covered in other melodramas. Cosmic metaphors and the theme that even two people living in the tight quarters of a camper van can hold secrets from one another don’t really enliven the proceedings much either. I may have liked the epilogue sequence more than I should have. This movie gets points for tackling a Big Issue from an alternative perspective but ultimately feels lost somewhere between treacly and perfunctory.

“The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes)” is Powerful Romance

Now streaming.

Uplifting GBLTQIA+ love stories free of melodramatic or tragic tropes aren’t always easy to find; sometimes you have to go to western South America for a really good one. Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo’s Los Fuertes (aka The Strong Ones) (B+) is a thoughtful and engrossing romantic drama about love that emerges between just the right people at almost exactly the right moment. Samuel González plays a student buying time in Southern Chile before graduate studies in Canada who meets a mysterious fisherman (with a most uncommon side hustle of historical battle reenactments in local fortresses) played by Antonio Altamirano. This is a film of wisely observed episodes in which there’s not a huge sweeping plot, just a swoon-worthy coastal courtship and the onslaught of potential longing and loss. Both ruggedly handsome actors are excellent in portraying men letting down their guards. They commit fully to authenticity on screen. Hidalgo wisely foregoes heavy-handed symbolism or amped-up high stakes and simply captures this love in bloom in sequences of joy, yearning and consequence. The gorgeous scenery and surroundings lend a lived-in quality to the proceedings equally interpreted as epic or fleeting, and the reality of the relationship that plays out is worth exploring.

Note: Check out this site for availability of this and other independent specialty films.

Movie Musical “The Prom” Funny and Heartwarming

Now streaming on Netflix.

Cue the catchy overtures, swirling footlights and confetti cannons because the unhinged and hilarious musical movie event of the year is hoofing its way into the streaming services of Middle America. Down-on-their-luck Broadway stars shake up a small Indiana town as they rally behind a teen who wants to attend the high school dance with her girlfriend in director Ryan Murphy’s joyous musical The Prom (A-). Luminous newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman is the friend of Dorothy at the film’s center whose big-hearted journey down the mellow brick road to the year’s big party involves larger-than-life troubadours who imbue the townsfolk with star quality, bravery, tolerance and a beguiling Bob Fosse tinged talent called “zazz.” Casting for the ensemble is simply inspired, including delicious diva Meryl Streep, foppish godmother James Corden, oblivious blowhard Andrew Rannells and spunky day-drinking chorus girl Nicole Kidman. Murphy deftly balances a tender central tale with acerbic showbiz insider antics for a film entertaining, uplifting and heartbreaking in equal doses. If anything this celebrity goodie bag may be overstuffed with too much, but it’s hard to resist a singing and dancing variety show packed with ample doses of genuine homespun love. The themes of acceptance and reconciliation are a well timed clarion call to the better angels of our national consciousness, and it’s all gift wrapped in glitter for the age of Twitter. The glorious music, clever lyrics and fabulous choreography come together with precision especially in the youthquake euphoria of tunes such as “You Happened,” “Time to Dance,” and “Unruly Heart.” Keegan-Michael Key as the high school principal gets a lovely grace note in an ode to theatre called “We Look to You,” earning the first of many tear-jerking vignettes. Ariana DeBose is also superb. For musical lovers, this Prom is a punch bowl of sweet and tart ingredients sure to rouse, stupefy and please.

Available on Netflix.